Amrie and the Geese,

from the, "The Little Barefoot"

Amrie tended the geese upon the Holder Green, as they called the pasture-ground upon the little height by Hungerbrook.

It was a pleasant but a troublesome occupation. Especially painful was it to Amrie, that she could do nothing to attach her charge to her. Indeed, they were scarcely to be distinguished one from another. Was it not true what Brown Mariann had said to her as she came out of the Moosbrunnenwood?

"Creatures that live in herds are all and every one stupid."

"I think," said Amrie, "that this is what makes geese stupid; they can do too many things. They can swim and run and fly, but they can do neither well; they are not at home in the water, nor on the ground, nor in the air; and therefore they are stupid."

"I will stand by this," said Mariann; "in thee is concealed an old hermit."

Amrie was often borne into the kingdom of dreams. Freely rose her childish soul upward and cradled itself in unlimited ether. As the larks in the air sang and rejoiced without knowing the limits of their field, so would she soar away beyond the boundaries of the whole country. The soul of the child knew nothing of the limits placed upon the narrow life of reality. Whoever is accustomed to wonder will find a miracle in every day.

"Listen!" she would say; "the cuckoo calls! It is the living echo of the woods calling and answering itself. The bird sits over there in the service-tree. Look up, and he will fly away. How loud he cries, and how unceasingly! That little bird has a stronger voice than a man. Place thyself upon the tree and imitate him; thou wilt not be heard so far as this bird, who is no larger than my hand. Listen! Perhaps he is an enchanted prince, and he may suddenly begin to speak to thee. Yes," she continued, "only tell me thy riddle, and I will soon find the meaning of it; and then will I disenchant thee."

While Amrie's thoughts were wandering beyond all bounds, the geese also felt themselves at liberty to stray away and enjoy the good things of the neighboring clover or barley field. Awaking out of her dreams, she had great trouble in bringing the geese back; and when these freebooters returned in regiments, they had much to tell of the goodly land where they had fed so well. There seemed no end to their gossipping and chattering.

Again Amrie soared. "Look! there fly the birds! No bird in the air goes astray. Even the swallows, as they pass and repass, are always safe, always free! O, could we only fly! How must the world look above, where the larks soar! Hurrah! Always higher and higher, farther and farther! O, if I could but fly!"

Then she sang herself suddenly away from all the noise and from all her thoughts. Her breath, which with the idea of flying had grown deeper and quicker, as though she really hovered in the high ether, became again calm and measured.

Of the thousand-fold meanings that lived in Amrie's soul, Brown Mariann received only at times an intimation. Once, when she came from the forest with her load of wood, and with May-bugs and worms for Amrie's geese imprisoned in her sack, the latter said to her, "Aunt, do you know why the wind blows?"

"No, child. Do you?"

"Yes; I have observed that everything that grows must move about. The bird flies, the beetle creeps; the hare, the stag, the horse, and all animals must run. The fish swim, and so do the frogs. But there stand the trees, the corn, and the grass; they cannot go forth, and yet they must grow. Then comes the wind, and says, 'Only stand still, and I will do for you what others can do for themselves. See how I turn, and shake, and bend you! Be glad that I come! I do thee good, even if I make thee weary.'"

Brown Mariann only made her usual speech in reply, "I maintain it; in thee is concealed the soul of an old hermit."

The quail began to be heard in the high rye-fields; near Amrie, the field larks sang the whole day long. They wandered here and there and sang so tenderly, so into the deepest heart, it seemed as though they drew their inspiration from the source of life,—from the soul itself. The tone was more beautiful than that of the skylark, which soars high in the air. Often one of the birds came so near to Amrie that she said, "Why cannot I tell thee that I will not hurt thee? Only stay!" But the bird was timid, and flew farther off.

At noon, when Brown Mariann came to her, she said, "Could I only know what a bird finds to say, singing the whole day long! Even then he has not sung it all out!"

Mariann answered, "See here! A bird keeps nothing to himself, to ponder over. But within man there is always something speaking on, so softly! There are thoughts in us that talk, and weep, and sing so quietly we scarcely hear them ourselves. Not so with the bird; when his song is done, he only wants to eat or sleep."

As Mariann turned and went forth with her bundle of sticks, Amrie looked after her, smiling. "There goes a great singing bird!" she thought to herself.

None but the sun saw how long the child continued to smile and to think. Silently she sat dreaming, as the wind moved the shadows of the branches around her. Then she gazed at the clouds, motionless on the horizon, or chasing each other through the sky. As in the wide space without, so in the soul of the child, the cloud-pictures arose and melted away.

Thus, day after day, Amrie lived.